Petr Limonov. Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham. 12 February 2023. 4****. William Ruff


Petr Limonov, piano

Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham

February 12 2023


Review: William Ruff


Pianist Petr Limonov opens a window on the sublime

Depending on how you count these things, there were either two works in Petr Limonov’s Sunday morning recital – or thirty-two.  Chopin’s Preludes consist of twenty-four pieces that are so vastly different in character that each one makes its own emotional impact.  In Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales there are seven individual waltzes plus an epilogue, all adding up to an experience which is much more than the sum of its parts – but again those individual parts are each exquisitely crafted, each one a brightly burnished jewel.

Chopin’s Preludes must contain some of the most concentrated loveliness in the entire classical repertoire.  The set spans all the major and minor keys and covers a vast emotional range, from the dazzlingly joyful to the depths of despair.  The longest lasts less than five minutes, the shortest just a few seconds – but each one gives an uncanny sense of perfection, each one ideally proportioned for what it has to say.  To hear them played as a complete set is always a notable musical event and Petr Limonov’s performance was remarkable for its rapt concentration and for the beauty of sound he generated. 

Each Prelude seemed like a miniature tone poem: the precise narrative may be secret but each one throws open the doors of intense human experience.  So much of the music is famous: the ‘Raindrop’ Prelude (No.15) or the C minor prelude (No.20) that has inspired other composers such as Busoni or Rachmaninov to write sets of variations on its instantly memorable main theme.  One potential problem for the performer is that much of the music is so well-known that each member of the audience will have their own ideas about how each Prelude should ‘go’.  Whatever differences of opinion about individual pieces there may have been, it’s unlikely that anyone would have doubted the cumulative power of the complete performance, let alone the virtuosity, insight and intelligence with which Petr Limonov responded to Chopin’s genius.

Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales were first performed in a concert in which all the pieces were played anonymously and the audience was asked to guess the name of the composer.  Very few people named Ravel – which is highly surprising as Ravel’s musical fingerprints are all over this work, in terms of the sound world it creates.  Petr Simonov shaped and coloured each of the seven waltzes with the same sort of empathy and respect which Ravel had brought to his treatment of a dance form he clearly relished. 

Both the Chopin and Ravel works contain writing of the highest intelligence, subtlety and sophistication, requiring energy and a razor-sharp sense of time to do them justice.  These were all qualities shared by Petr Limonov, as was apparent from the audience ovation at the end of his recital.  It seemed more than a tad unreasonable to expect an encore after such extraordinary intensity, but he generously obliged with the F minor Mazurka, the last piece Chopin wrote before his premature death, just one page in length, offering yet another perspective on the sublime.

Petr Limonov playing in the Sunday Morning Piano Series at Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall

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